aka: Reticulating Splines
Come and take a peep at all these loading screens;
And tell me have you seen
All that the load can bring?
Just a little somethin' while the cartoon loads,
Watch a looping animation that you can behold!
In Video Games
, loading new data such as the next level takes time. Just throwing up a black screen during the process might cause players to think the game isn't working. In order to prevent this, the loading screen was born. It might be as simple as the word "Loading" on the black screen or might include colourful animation or progress bars to show that, "no really, the game is
working on something right now..."
As games have grown larger, more complex and more detailed, loading times have increased in many games. This has resulted in an evolution of loading screens. Some of the possible features are:
- Some kind of in-game justification for the loading screen, like an RTS that has a loading screen purporting to be your command center connecting to the battle network.
- Looping animation of something to disguise the fact that it's a loading screen. Loading screens for traveling from one area to another particularly like doing this, with a looping "travel animation" capped off with an "arrival animation" once the next area is loaded.
- Some loading screens go beyond just a simple image or animation and have additional background information on the game world, such as biographical information on characters, weapon specifications or tips for gameplay. Similarly, some screens also provide plot summaries of recent events in case you've stopped playing for a while and have forgotten what's going on or what you need to do next.
- In a few cases, loading times are so long that the loading screen includes some form of Mini-Game to keep the player entertained while they wait. Namco technically has a patent on this until 2015, but due to examples appearing far before the patent on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, Namco would have trouble defending it in court.
- Games that include procedurally generated levels may add humorous names to computational actions during generation such as "Corrupting the World" or "Creating an Over-arching Sense of Dread".
Of course, improvements in technology have also helped reduce and even eliminate loading times, and therefore loading screens. Many games constantly stream new content
during play so that players can explore large levels with no loading screens interrupting play.
Loading screens can also be found in Flash animations
. If they go for too
long, it results in Loads and Loads of Loading
open/close all folders
Examples of in-game justification of Loading Screens
Examples of disguised Loading Screens
- SSX 3 generally streamed the levels, but when using one of the transport options the game would display a looping animation of your character chilling in the ski lift or helicopter while the game loads the new area.
- The early Resident Evil games showed an animation of a door opening every time you entered a new room in order to disguise the loading time.
- These doors eventually stuck — when they made the remake for the Gamecube the developers were able to all but eliminate loading times, but playtesters reported that moving from room to room so seamlessly felt unnatural, and the "door opening" sequences were kept in to extend the (perceived) loading times. However, when a Door gets destroyed you can just go straight from one room into another.
- With the DS port of the first game, those were just made optional.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum uses a similar trick. The game also adapts the length of the opening animation to the loading time required: a high-security door may spend some time scanning you and slowly unbolting, or it might open instantly if the level behind it is already loaded.
- Resident Evil 5 not only has loading screens at the beginning of each chapter, but for the sublevels within each chapter. They tell about various events in the history of the series.
- When the player picks a stage in Super Mario Galaxy for Wii, the game shows an animation of Mario blasting off toward the stage.
- However, this animation does not mask a loading screen - it plays before the "star select" screen, and the Gateway Galaxy doesn't have the animation playing. However, the transition between the Observatory and the Domes, and the short white screen when entering galaxies are masking loading. Thankfully, they're extremely short.
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and later have a rather elegant way of disguising load screens by playing the mission briefing cutscene during said loads, though there is a small bar that fills up and the cutscene can be skipped once the load is complete.
- Metroid Prime sticks with the series staple of shooting doors to "de-energize" the locks on them. How much time passes between de-energization and when the door opens generally varies depending on how big the next room is (i.e. how much there is to load). The first Metroid Prime had many small corridors filled with enemies that are designed to slow you down so the next room can load by the time you reach the door.
- The elevators are also used to mask the loading times.
- The first time you pop the Tony Hawk's Project 8 disc in your PS3, you're treated to a long intro movie you can't skip, while the game installs 230 megabytes of data to your hard disk.
- Max Payne 3's loading screens were similar in intent to Call of Duty's, albeit in a much more "seamless" manner by shifting from realtime cutscenes to pre-rendered Bink videos whenever a level is loaded. And to make things even more seamless, the videos were encoded in 1080p, bloating the game's resource footprint even further.
- Between levels, Advent Rising treats you to in-game cutscenes that can only be skipped once the next level has finished loading. These cutscenes range from plot-moving action and conversation to long, pointless shots of gunfights and general destruction.
- In the Dreamcast Version of Sonic Adventure, the cutscenes played while the next part loaded.
- Tombi 2 showed Tombi walking down a long tunnel.
- In the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 2 versions of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, the loading screen for each level is a cockpit view through hyperspace, ostensibly what the characters see as they fly to their next destination.
- God Of War and it's sequels used this. Run into a long stretch of land, a lengthy staircase, or a wall that has to be climbed? The next section loads as you cross the area. It is possible to hit a "Now Loading" message, but you have to be really fast, or have a defective PS2.
- Sonic Colors shows stage intros not unlike those from the classic Sonic games, as well as Heroes. These are loading screens that appear to load the stage map, while in Unleashed, the enemies and tidbits load while Sonic progresses through the stage.
- Mass Effect has elevators. Anybody who's played the game can tell you that there are a lot of elevators. Shepard goes through more elevators in a day than most people do in a month in the first game. The decontamination sequence upon boarding the Normandy also qualifies.
- Mass Effect 2 replaces the elevator sequences with loading videos, which also include gameplay tips. Most are pretty straightforward, like control reminders, but one stands out: "There are no decent galactic dating services. If you want to find romance, you must talk to people." No matter how quickly the game actually loads, you're stuck staring at the loading screen until the video finishes playing.
- Finally, Mass Effect 3 gave up and dispensed with the videos too, just using straight loading screens, which finally makes loading take exactly as it should instead of being artificially prolonged. Even the dreaded Citadel elevators are rendered as loading screens. However, both Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 still retain disguised loading screens in the form of closed doors; the spinning animation for the door security hologram actually plays while the area behind the door is loading, which is why it can take more or less time depending on performance.
- The first Spyro the Dragon game had the main character flying to the level almost seamlessly after moving between portals. The gems collected in the area are tallied up during the flight, as well.
- In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, the character Zelda can transform into her disguised form, Sheik. The game does not stop while loading Sheik's or Zelda's model, but the loading is actually hidden by her transforming animation. During the animation, one can audibly hear the Wii loading data.
- Ghostbusters: The Video Game uses prerendered cut scenes not only to tell major parts of the story, but to disguise load times. This is very evident when loading a checkpoint—which uses the "give some in game information" trick below—or when playing the PC version, which does neither.
Examples of extra information in Loading Screens
- Loading screens in most versions of Shadow Of The Beast showed little snippets about your eyes adjusting to the dim light, or returning to the overworld to find its air scorching hot, reaffirming your determination to etc. Simple, effective, bloody rare.
- The original Amiga version had also loading screens with images depicting the present location and text descriptions scrolling below those images. While in the C64 version the loading screens were text-only, there were more of them with more text than in the Amiga version. However, the actual loading times were still shorter in the C64 version, which benefited greatly from being published on a C64 cartridge.note The Amiga version was on floppies with no direct hard drive support.
- The loading screen for the ZX Spectrum version of Chuckie Egg (ask your granddad) included a list of the default keys used for playing the game, making this Older Than the NES.
- Another ZX Spectrum example was Quazatron, which had text loading screens describing some of the concepts and backstory for the game.
- Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction displays biographical information on the main characters, factions and "Deck of 52" members, as well as weapon, vehicle and air strike information and gameplay tips.
- Several Burnout games display "Have you seen..." messages on the loading screens, giving you a sneak peek at upcoming levels and cars. Of course, it keeps doing it regardless of whether you have seen it or not.
- This is notably averted in the latest entry, Burnout Paradise, due to the fact that it streams (except for when you restart races, in which case only the Paradise City/Big Surf Island logo on an asphalt road is seen)
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit also displays tips alongside information of the event/match such as players on the speedwall or starting line-up and teams they're on respectively.
- Knights of the Old Republic includes background information on the Star Wars universe and gameplay tips.
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines would explain some of the in-game notions or give hints about the use of player's abilities.
- It is to note that the information texts would often be direct extracts from the VTM Corebook, as well as somewhat "evolving", meaning that, while you were doing generic stuff while travelling the streets, you would get generic info during loading screens like background about the vampiric condition, but if you were e.g. about to encounter vampires of clans that you have not yet met, it would show information about the respective clan.
- Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2 also display both background universe information and gameplay tips.
- All games using the Infinity Engine (the Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series, as well as Planescape: Torment) have gameplay tips on their loading screens.
- World of Warcraft displays gameplay tips on loading screens when starting the game and changing continents. There's also loading screens while going into instances.
- 'WarcraftIII had a loading screen that, in story mode, displayed a general map placing the battlefield(and the location of previous missions, if they were on the same map), the number and name of the mission as well as information on the background of the mission; multiplayers maps didn't always use any of this to any real potential.
- World in Conflict goes further; the backstory of the missions are acted out in the load screens. Very professional.
- Heroes Of Might And Magic V explains the basic plot of the mission in the loading screen. In the latest expansion, voice-acting is also provided.
- Team Fortress 2 brings up your "Progress Record'' sheet, detailing your playtime and best efforts with each class, as well as a random tip during loading screens.
- The Guitar Hero and Rock Band series include either general jokes about the music industry, band stereotypes, or factoids about the band whose song you are about to play.
- Rock Band 3 covers up loading time with short cutscenes involving your band's characters. For instance, going into a song sometimes shows shots of people lining up to get in or the stage being set up, going to the music store shows a character digging through old records, and going to the character editor shows a character driving to a salon. Some situations still use a animated throbber though (particularly during online play or when loading a "music video" stage)
- The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has this too and moreover, many "tips of the day" are deliberately false, in accordance to the "ambiguous history" doctrine that all in-game books follow: no event in Tamrielic lore is described uniformly across different sources.
- The Xbox port of Morrowind shows gameplay tips in the loading screens that would show up whenever you load a new or saved game, or when you use one of the Warp Whistles in the game. Compare this to the PC version of the game, which simply shows creature art in its loading screens.
- Skyrim also displays tips and bits of lore while loading, but also displays a relevant 3D model that can be rotated and zoomed with the right stick.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Snake smokes for twenty minutes while it installs data onto your hard drive. It also has many messages, including one about how smoking will kill you. when it's done, Snakes acknowledges that he "Kept you waiting?"
- Egregiously, the "loading" screen states that it's installing the current act (there are five), which makes sense. Until you restart the game, and it installs the first act again. God help you if you have multiple games in multiple acts.
- Painfully, it only stores one act at a time on the drive. Ouch.
- Only for when you first play the game are the loading times twenty minutes long. Subsequent playthroughs are barely a minute or two long. Something obviously stays installed.
- The installing to the hard disk per act can be blamed on Sony, who at the time had a maximum allowed installation size. They've since lifted this restriction.
- Jedi Knight had the mission's overall objective appear on the loading screen. On new computers reading these are impossible as loading is very quick.
- Jedi Outcast would show you your stats for the level you had just finished, while Jedi Academy would show you the objectives for the mission you're loading and what weapons you decided to take with you.
- BioShock's loading screens included a combination of ominous/interesting excerpts from the game's audio-diaries and gameplay tips.
- In BioShock 2 it's even better,as during loading you can hear golden oldies being played.
- In addition to being disguised loading screens, the elevator sequences in the first Mass Effect often give world-building information either through on-board announcements or in conversations between your teammates.
- My Sims has to load not only when you start or continue a file, but anytime you enter or exit a building, or go to a different section of town. The load screen features a tessellation of wooden blocks, one of which has a spinning green crystal on it. The bottom has the usual notices about how loading may take a few moments, and telling you not to push Reset or the Power button. What puts them in this category is that it displays tips, such as telling you that holding B lets you place multiple copies of the same block without having to go get another one, or telling you that "I wish I had a pickaxe..."
- When entering a town in the PS360 version of Sonic Unleashed, the display shows a map of the current town, including the location of the Entrance Stage, the World Map gate, Pickle's lab, and even shops.
- When entering a stage, day or night, the game gives you a friendly reminder of the controls. It doesn't last long enough to remember everything though. Thankfully the game is easy to pick up.
- Hostile Waters again; some of the pre-cutscene loading screens displayed information about the plot (made to look like a news bulletin) or about the pilots under your command.
- Dawn of War 2 displays hints when loading a multiplayer game. Some tongue-in-cheek, some really, really helpful. Single-player loading screens had informations about game concepts or characters.
- Indeed, Dark Crusade used loading screens for "special" missions (the ones that earned the commander unique assets and the enemy strongholds) to provide background information about the nature of the trophy he was about to fight for or to outline the enemy's disposition.
- The second two Xenosaga games as well as Rogue Galaxy feature a "story up till now" screen when loading from a saved game.
- Naruto: Ultimate Ninja shows a few things during loading screens, such as Lee doing push-ups, Gamakichi hopping, and Tayuya playing a flute.
- Toontown Online has a so-called "ToonTip" on each of its loading screens. Usually, the tip is related to the area you're in, such as a racing tip at Goofy Speedway or a general gameplay tip when entering the game (which itself is a longer loading screen that always pauses 2/3 of the way through after a constant rate of movement for the load bar, and then finishes loading, followed by ANOTHER load screen for the place you're going to.)
- After hitting the X button to start loading a level in LittleBigPlanet (Story, Create Mode or otherwise), the screen shows information about the level on the "Pod Computer" screen. You can move the left stick to change windows between level information, items collected in the level, and popularity and tags (if an online level), with your Sackperson moving the Pod Computer (which is pretty much a PS3 controller) controls the same way. Also part of the loading is the word "Loading..." slowly rotating around the level icon on the planet or moon, and a running, monochromatic Sackboy with two arrows circling him in the lower left-hand corner. Unlike in most games, the loading can be cancelled mid-load by pressing the Circle button. (Sackboy only touches the buttons to load a level or cancel a load. But he always moves the analog sticks in response to the player's controller.) When the loading is done, the level icon literally "unzips" around the edge and the camera goes into it, with a white light followed by Sackboy popping out of the Entry Barrel in said level. Returning to the Pod from a level doesn't take as long to load, but the camera still does the white-light thing.
- The "Loading Sackboy" animation sometimes is switched out for a spinning globe inside the arrows when transferring data to or from the online servers. Frequently appears while playing with other players online, even mid-level.
- Star Wars: Empire at War and its Expansion give information on whichever planet (or asteroid field in one case, planetary debris in another case in the expansion), including planetary bonus', advantages, some background info, a preview of the battlefield, the planetary conditions, and the name of the predominate species(s), with a picture if that planet has militia.
- Madden NFL, at least in the recent games, gives player tips while the screen is loading.
- Until Madden 10, which just advertises Snickers at you.
- Backyard Football 2006 put NFL trivia in the loading screen (probably as an attempt to spoof Madden).
- Left 4 Dead, when loading between levels, displays player statistics about the previous level. The loading screen for the first level, however, is a static film poster.
- The loading screen with player statistics also gives random tips to help players improve their skills. VS also includes tips for players controlling the special infected.
- Dragon Age: Origins occasionally shows info about lore and gameplay on loading screens.
- Or reminders about your current Main Quest, encapsulated in an expository synopsis touching on where you are, why you're there, personalities involved, and your possible objective(s).
- Starting with the third game, the loading screens in Geneforge show what might be described as annotated schematics of the various creatures you can genetically engineer. They're the only in-game source for some information, like why Wingbolts never use the stingers they're equipped with.
- Loading screens before multiplayer matches in The Conduit display a screen of the current match settings, along with information text and trivia about the game's various weapons.
- In Overlord II, Gnarl will provide either gameplay help of odd bits of advice (like "Don't bring a succubus home to meet your mother.")
- The atrocious loading screens in Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) provide a "helpful" map of the area that is loading, or else remind you what buttons to press during gameplay to perform certain tasks.
- The Darkness uses loading screens to show monologues from the lead character which further the plot.
- Unreal Tournament 2004 and onwards would show hints and a picture of the upcoming map during loading screens. Killing Floor, running on the same engine, does the same, though the hints are limited to info on what you're going to be killing for the next half hour or so.
- Forza Motorsport 3 does this for most loading screens, displaying facts about cars and things relating to cars (Like "In 1898, the New York Police Department used bicycles to pursue speeding motorists") or in-game tips.
- Metroid: Other M has a brief summary on what happened in the story when you load a saved game. If the game is finished loading before the text scroll is done, you'll have the option of skipping the summary and get straight into the game.
- Besides the epic "In the beginning" screen during the Procedural Generation of the world map (see below) Civilization IV included a screen providing basic gameplay tips like "don't neglect your navy" and "Wonders provide many benefits" (as well as humorous ones like "Never fight a land war in Asia") while loading up saved games.
- Doom 3 gives a summary/description of the area being loaded.
- Prototype has the initial loading screen displaying random tips relevant to the progress in the current save file. In between missions though, it's just a black screen with the auto-save icon animating. Thankfully short on most modern systems today in the case of the PC version.
- Alice: Madness Returns uses a simple chained key( belonging to Elizabeth Liddell's room) swinging like a clock pendulum while tips or other info are being listed.
- Serious Sam HD shows the Netrisca screen while loading levels, where the AI in question shows you the stats for the level you just completed and tells you what you need to do on the next. It's also possible to look at the bestiary and weapon info screens while loading.
- The earliest Call of Duty games showed something relevant to the mission being loaded at the start, typically a journal written by the player character hours before the mission.
- Multiplayer across the entire series would show the name of the map loading and the game-type being run. Modern Warfare 2 and later also show hints on how to use the various tools given to you, variously switching between obvious to anyone and truly helpful.
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 gives brief snippets of information about various characters and units. On a lot of modern PCs, the loading process is a bit too quick to read everything.
- In Red Alert 2, the loading screens showed occupied territories, the location of the next battle, the icons for any new and/or mission-critical units, and what kind of battle it would be through symbols and arrows. For instance, if you were defending a base as the Allies, it would show a blue shield with a red arrow pointing at it.
- In skirmish and multiplayer for Red Alert 2, a map of your selected country would be displayed, with information on that country's special unit or ability (such as USA's Paratroopers, Russia's Tesla Tank, Yuri's Yuri Prime, etc).
- Battlefield games typically show some sort of information about the battle you're going to join in its loading screens - Battlefield 2 would show an overhead map of the area, for instance, showing the default placement of control posts. Bad Company 2 goes a step further, where the loading screen has a clickable button asking if you'd like to automatically be assigned to a squad, and loading a new map from that server shows a scoreboard listing the experience and pins you've gained in the last round.
- Borderlands offers hints about enemy critical hit spots and elemental weaknesses, guns traits depending on their manufacturer, and basic gameplay strategies.
- Magicka loading screens feature amusing pictures along with helpful tips such as "The loading screen provides gameplay tips" and "If you find yourself dying too much, try to avoid taking damage."
- The loading screens in Spec Ops: The Line start out like any other with general tips and background. But as events go from bad to worse, they slowly subvert the trope with attacks that apply to the player just as much as they do the main character.
- Fallout 3 has various pre-war advertisements and news headlines on its loading screens.
Examples of mini-games included in Loading Screens
- It's worth noting that Namco has a patent on loading screen minigames.
- Ridge Racer had a mini-game that was one level in Galaxian. Shooting down all of the enemy ships unlocked a few bonus cars.
- Tekken was made by Namco and thus used the actual Galaga; completing it with a perfect score unlocked a hidden character. Later games used different shooters; the 1991 on-rails shooter Starblade opens Tekken 5.
- Bayonetta let you practice your combos during the loading screens, providing a handy list of button combinations on the right side of the screen. By pressing select you can actually stay in traning mode even after the game has finished loading.
- The Dragon Ball Z Budokai Tenkaichi series (aka Dragon Ball Sparking), and by association Dragon Ball Z Raging Blast, all have mini-games to play during the load screens. The mini game is even multi-player in VS modes! However, in Budokai Tenkaichi 3, they had removed the mini games (which returned in Raging Blast) to appease a lawsuit regarding the patented use of mini-games on loading screens from aforementioned Namco, replacing them with a much more simple button mashing game both players can participate in.
- Strike Commander let you play a 1-player version of Pong as you waited for a mission to load. Woe to you if you let the immobile edges score against you, as it ended the mini-game.
- Mortal Kombat II included Pong as well, but it was time-based. You could only play it every 50 matches or so.
- Ōkami has two mini-mini-games in its loading screen, which, if completed, grant you Demon Fangs. One of them involves pressing the X button in sync to the pawn prints appearing, and the other is just button mashing until the Demon Fang appears (though you need longer loading times to be successful). The Wii version removed these minigames.
- Long before any of those was Invade A Load, the tape loader for several games published by Mastertronic for Commodore 64 home computers. It was a clone of Space Invaders that could be played for five to ten minutes while the main game was loading from the C64's very slow cassette interface. Ghostbusters on C64 featured this. Players Software, too, used this kind of loader at least in some of its games (such as Joe Blade. C64 loader games have even been trotted out on forums as prior art to potentially invalidate Namco's patent.
- In Super Smash Bros.. Brawl, when playing online, you get to a training screen after you choose character and stage where you can practice with your character on a simple stage against a sandbag. Not as much loading as waiting for the other players to choose, but still...
- Game Mods for Brawl replace one of the tournament-banned stages with that training room so as to have more neutral stages in Tournament Play: Brawl+ replaces New Pork City, while Balanced Brawl cuts Hanenbow. Why anyone would want two Final Destinations is beyond us.
- Phantasy Star Online has 2. When you first start the game (after picking your character) you get to control a little ball of light until the game loads. When you are going through a warp you can control the "Warp Rings."
- In Episode 3 you get to play a little tune and change the background color while waiting (which isn't as fun as the little ball of light).
- Onichanbara Bikini Samurai Squad has a mini game where you control Aya and slash a bunch of crude zombies.
- In Devil May Cry 3, while you were presented with a black screen with a "Loading" in the corner, you could attack the word, peppering it with bullet holes, slashing it, and even launching it into the air until you made it explode.
- A few non-video game examples from Homestar Runner:
- In the 2002 remake of Test Drive, the loading screen has Pong.